Saturday, August 5, 2017

Vacation time!

I'll be taking a vacation from the blog through August. Next week I'm off on a creative writing workshop with the always amazing Lynda Barry. When I come back, it's all grant-writing all the time, and I'll pop in now and then to update on how it's going 'writing to a structure.'
I'll be back for good in September, when the new academic year starts, with more writing prompts and suggestions.
Happy August!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Writing to a Structure

In this video I talk about a strategy I'm learning from Priscilla Long's book The Writer's Portable Mentor. The idea is to use an exemplar piece, analyse its structure at the section and paragraph level, and then draft your own piece using the same structure. After a first draft is produced, you can start to work with your piece on its own terms... but it's much easier to get there if you borrow a structure.

In the video, I talk a little bit about why I think it's useful and important to write to a structure. While some may think that writing to a structure eliminates creativity, I disagree, and I talk a little bit about why.

I'll be trying out this strategy over the next few weeks and hope to keep you updated about how it goes.


Monday, July 17, 2017

Using tarot to get past writing roadblocks

In today's video I explain how I used tarot to help me (start to!) get past a writing roadblock. In the video I reference:
The Fool's Dog Tarot Sampler (app)
Kim Krans's Wild Unknown tarot deck
Joan Bolker's book Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day

Let me know if you have used tarot to help you with your writing, and what happened!


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Another use for the academic word kit: Interview with a scholar

When Lynda Barry and Ebony Flowers visited Toronto in April 2017, Ebony shared a variation on the academic words/questions activity that we already discussed.

Briefly, you use your academic kit to generate a question related to your research, and then you write an interview with a scholar of your choice, imagining how they might answer the question.


Here's my sample comic, when I asked an imaginary Dorothy Holland what illness has to do with monsters.


Friday, July 7, 2017

Creating and using an academic word and question kit

In this video, I talk you through the process for creating an academic word and question kit, so you can generate lots of different free-writing prompts related to your research. The credit goes to Lynda Barry and Ebony Flowers who developed this idea together.

You will need some index cards. Cut some in half - you will use these for words related to your research (plus some unrelated words for fun). On the other cards, write questions. Each question should have a blank in it, to be filled by a word from the word cards. Get creative with the questions! I've listed some example questions below the video.


What is the opposite of ____ ?
What does ____ want?
What animal does ____ remind you of the most?
How is ____ like a monster?
What happens if ____ gets wet?
Does ____ live in our minds?
What does common sense about ____ get right?
Why can metaphors be a problem with ____ ?
What happens when ____ breaks?
What is important about ____ ?
Tell a lie about ____ .
What is the best environment for ____ ?
What makes ____ so alluring?
What does ____ have to do with time?
What if ____ fell on the ground?

Post any additional questions in the comments!


Monday, June 19, 2017

On revision

For this week's prompts, I'd like to share some wisdom from a book I'm working through at the moment: Naming the World, and Other Exercises for the Creative Writer, edited by Bret Anthony Johnston. It's an edited volume, with many different writers and writing instructors contributing writing prompts and exercises.

We've mostly been talking about generating new ideas, making sense of tough concepts, and the like. This week I'd like to focus on revision. I've always said that I hate revision, but I think I haven't had great tools for it until now. I'd love to start a discussion with folks about what, precisely, you do when you revise.

For now, here are some ideas from John Smolens's chapter, on shortening a piece while you revise:
Be ruthless with the usual suspects, adjectives and adverbs; retain only those that are truly necessary, those that so dramatically alter the noun or verb they are modifying that the sentence would be significantly different without them.
Take one paragraph and distill it until you've said the same thing in one sentence. 
 Combine sentences (in particular, by using subordination which often allows connecting words and entire phrases to be dropped).
 Employ the active voice as much as possible. (pp. 303-304)
 If you use writing as a way to figure out what you think, as I do, then inevitably your first draft (and potentially many drafts after that one!) has a lot of extraneous material. It can be a great idea to shorten while you revise.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Draw Your Theory

This week's video gives some examples of drawings that I made to try to understand the distinctions between two different theories of disability. I show how you can use drawings to illustrate, understand, and explain a given theory, by thinking about a theory as a story, involving certain characters and objects, processes and relationships.

I hope you enjoy it!


Thursday, June 8, 2017

First drafts

I just finished reading The Clockwork Muse by Eviatar Zerubavel, and found a quote about first drafts inspiring. Dr. Zerubavel is quoting writer Mario Vargas Llosa:
"the first version is written in a real state of anxiety. Then once I've finished that draft... everything changes. I know then that the story is there, buried in what I call my 'magma.' It's absolute chaos but the novel is in there, lost in a mass of dead elements, superfluous scenes that will disappear... It's very chaotic and makes sense only to me. But the story is born under there." (quoted from "The Art of Fiction--Mario Vargas Llosa," The Paris Review 116 (1990): 57, in Zerubavel's The Clockwork Muse, p. 51)
I don't know about you, but I as I write first drafts of academic or creative writing, I have to constantly remind myself that I don't know how it will end up, and it's ok to just keep going. I made this drawing (and took this incredibly low quality photo in the middle of the night) to remind myself of my job as a writer:




 Your Job Is To Make A Mess, brought to you by a snake, an elephant, a bunny, a dog/deer hybrid, a mouse, a whale, and a cat. And me.

Monday, June 5, 2017

How is ___ like ___?

This week's video uses some techniques from Lynda Barry (author of Syllabus and many other amazing books) and Ebony Flowers, developed and shared in their workshops and courses called DrawBridge, to link academic writing with creative writing and image-making. Their stuff has been adapted by Thelma Akyea, at the University of Toronto.
This technique is great when you're near the beginning stages of writing something, and come across a tough concept that you have to explain. Let me know how it goes!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Video: 6-minute writing diary

This video introduces the process for a 6-minute writing diary, sometimes called a log. In several books on writing, I've seen the suggestion to keep something like a log to keep track of your progress. It can be really helpful to record, for any given writing day: what you accomplished, what decisions you made and why, how you felt. Patricia Goodson gives one format for a writing log in her book, Becoming an Academic Writer.

The format I suggest in this video is based on Lynda Barry's book Syllabus, one of my favorite writing books of all time. The 6-minute diary format is introduced by Lynda herself in this video. It's fun and easy to adapt to lots of different purposes - let me know how it goes!


Monday, May 22, 2017

Video: Generative Writing by Robert Boice

Welcome to the first in a series of videos I'm planning to post, to support academics, especially graduate students, to get writing! I'll be providing writing prompts and activities that you can try anytime, and that are especially useful when you are stuck.

This first video focuses on generative writing, a strategy described by Robert Boice in the book Professors as Writers. I highly recommend the book, and I hope generative writing is useful for you!

Sunday, January 8, 2017